Tag Archives: creativity

Coronavirus: Some Practical Strategies for Dealing with Crisis and Uncertainty

Coronavirus has certainly raised the levels of global uncertainty and anxiety to heights that many people will not have experienced in their lifetime. Uncertainty, particularly over a prolonged period, can be very detrimental to our mental and emotional well being.

There is much online help and advice, so why am I writing this?

In my life I have experienced a number of crises and a great deal of uncertainty. I have learned strategies to deal with these through trial and (a great deal of) error. So I thought I would share them in case they helped any of you. For those of you who need to know my credentials, my story is at the end of this blog. Otherwise, read on! Skim the points, and choose what attracts you, or study in depth.

My first job after University was for a small Investment Firm in South Africa. The man who ran it is now the richest man in South Africa and I learned a lot from him.

He was a great advocate of the KISS principle: Keep it Simple, Stupid! Like many profound truths, these strategies are simple, but it doesn’t mean they are easy to implement – in particular when you are stressed.

  1. Take Action regarding things that are under your control

The feeling of being out of control is one that many of us find difficult, if not downright excruciating. So getting on with things that are under your control helps dissipate this feeling. Technically our +/-40,000 thoughts per day are under our control, yet we often find this is not the case. So the following help calm us enough to make this more possible.

  • Technology

Technology has become the backbone of our lives. It can either enable or disable us, depending on how we use it.

Here are the positives:

  • Communicate and connect

Renowned neuroscientist and author, Daniel Levitin recently gave a talk at the University where I work. According to him, research states that Happiness comes not from having a loved one, a special connection with someone who has your back, but through micro-connections: 2-3 short conversations per day, even with random strangers, can prevent you from feeling lonely. Technology is great for this! May I suggest calling/video calling, rather than texting. I don’t believe it has the same impact.

NOTE: I read somewhere that someone is collecting up old smartphones to donate to elderly isolated people so they can still see their loved ones. Great idea – could you facilitate/contribute?

  • Use good quality online learning resources. There are a myriad out there!
  • Learn something new – like a language. Since my daughter left for University and I have been living alone, I have been learning Italian on Duolingo. Apart from the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction, it has become the way I transition from work to an empty house – so much more satisfying than a glass of wine!
  • Join some online groups. I have been running a weekly meditation for a number of years at the University, and we are about to go online. Join us! http://www.creativetransformation.org.uk/talks-workshops/meditations/. I will update how to join an online group before next week. And there are many, many others, where people who think and who care can stimulate and encourage you.
  • BRAINSTORM! Another reason my first boss got so rich, was his attitude to crises. Crisis can either galvanise your imagination, creativity and resolve, or it can overwhelm you. As a firm, he ensured we did the former, and it is something I have tried to practice ever since. So every time there was a crisis anywhere in the world, he would call a brainstorming meeting to look for the opportunities that were always present in difficulty.

Here are the negatives:

·      I know, it’s obvious but I will still say it – don’t gorge on bad news. Treat it like medication – necessary and useful if you stick to a sensible dose, but otherwise potentially lethal. When you are tempted, play sudoku, scrabble, or call a friend.

·      Be careful about spreading panic/fake news. Think about where your communications are going, and if you are going to worry anyone in a vulnerable position.

  • Practice gratitude and Appreciation

The research shows this really works! And it works better if you actually write things down. Brené Brown, best selling author and researcher has interviewed tens of thousands of people. She talks of how the people who have survived great loss or trauma, are helped most by appreciating small daily things. And there is other research to show that writing to someone who has really helped you in the past, also increases your level of happiness. A 6 month research study of people who wrote a daily journal of 3 things they were grateful for showed that they were happier, more grateful and had less depression.

  • Nourish Yourself

This ties in with the above. What are the things in life that really bring you joy, laughter, pleasure? If you are going to stockpile during this time of coronavirus crisis, stockpile some of those things. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Nature

I find enormous solace in nature, and great need to continual renewal. One of my difficulties in the last month, when I was trying to decide whether to cancel my booked (and paid for!) holiday to Italy, was that I couldn’t get out into nature – I couldn’t go camping in the mountains because of consecutive weekends of brutal storms, and I couldn’t walk along the river because of the consequent flooding. I really noticed how much harder it was to de-stress. And of course, with the current crisis, many people are not going to be able to get out much into nature at all. But I brought nature indoors, filling my home with spring flowers – more later.

Life is what happens when we are making other plans

Grow something!

I realised when tending my bulbs in my small outdoor courtyard the other day, how deeply nourishing it is to be connected to things that are growing, blooming and being unaffected by this crisis. Head off to your local garden centre before they have to close, and stock up on spring plants, herbs, vegetables and seeds. Grow simple food like lettuce, get into your garden if you have one, and get a few house plants if you don’t.

  • Exercise

I am an ‘exercise outdoors’ kind of girl where possible, and am having to think of how to change those habits. Again, technology can help, because for sure exercise is vital to keep everything burning and ticking over well, if and when you can.

Creativity:

Just as the world wars spawned a plethora of new inventions and different ways of working or living, this crisis seems in some way reminiscent, and it can bring into creation all sorts of ideas that you have been gestating but being too frightened/busy/distracted, to do. Stock up on your painting equipment, your DIY equipment, materials, wool, family photographs and anything else that inspires your creativity! If you have room, make yourself a dedicated space where you can start messy projects and leave them without having to clear up! I have been meaning to do some video lessons, and podcasts for ages, if not years. Because I am the age I am, (and despite computer programming in my chequered past!) I have a huge resistance to this, but watch the space on my website. I want to be able to earn during this crisis, AND I want to contribute to the many many people who are going to struggle more than I will. So I am even planning on starting an Instagram account (😱😱) to share my more arty photos and some positive daily thoughts.

  • Use all your senses to the Full in nourishing yourself

I am a lover of sensuality – of all the senses. Here are some of the ways I nourish myself:

  • Sight

A short walk in nature, when I can, affords endless opportunities of noticing, of looking deeply, of seeing differently.

I love colour, and I love flowers, and so my home is currently filled with as many colourful flowers as I can afford.

Remember art? Remember books? Feast your eyes on beautiful images

  • Smell

Scented flowers! Herbs, oils, scented baths, perfume, scented skin creams

  • Sound

Make sound – sing! Play instruments. There are those wonderful videos of the Italians singing to one another from their balconies which make my heart sing. I saw a great video once of people all over the world who had got together remotely to make a music video. All my innovative music types, why don’t you write a song that can be sung round the world to bring us together?

Another thing that has been exercising my mind is how we can help those who are desperately ill and struggling to breathe not to panic so much, as that makes things so much worse. There has been research showing that playing music to patients under anaesthetic in operations decreases recovery time and levels of pain. Would it not be worth a try for those in intensive care? Again, my music types, what sort of music would best serve these purposes? Use your talents and strengths to make a difference!

  • Taste

Eat nourishing food, that is beautiful to the eye and the tongue. Living alone makes it easy not to eat well. I am taking the time in this crisis to shop, cook and eat more thoughtfully, and with greater enjoyment. Cook together at home if you can, learn new recipes, bake bread and do other things that require time and attention that you have been previously too busy to do.

  • Touch

This presents a particular problem in this crisis. I believe that touch is essential for our well being, and it is something that is being denied to many of us at the moment. When I work with people who are panicking, or are very anxious, one of the best ways to help them calm, is to work on the body. The mind runs away, but the body stays, and if I can help people to return to the body, it can help to settle the mind. When the body and breathing calm, the mind calms. When we are panicking, it is often difficult to deeply breathe – work on the body can help that enormously.

So for those of you who can touch, do!

  • Show affection to your loved ones
  • Explore massage
  • Make love, in the widest sense of the word (and obviously at the moment, only within a monogamous relationship with someone whom you know absolutely is not infectious)

For those of you who cannot, we need to learn ways to re-connect with our own bodies in order to both nourish ourselves generally and to help ourselves deal with anxiety.

  • Massage yourself
  • Dance
  • Do body-specific meditation (listen to the meditations on my website, link above)
  • Do Yoga, or other body practices, such as Tai Chi
  • When my students have Performance Anxiety, I get them to do strong poses, like a yoga warrior pose, and to stamp their feet to Zulu warrior music, or punch the air, and make sound – think of the All-Blacks’ Haka. When we are anxious, energy moves up the body, away from the feet and legs, and we need to bring it down.
  • Facetime a good coach and get them to work with you to help this. If you don’t have facetime/whatsapp, I have talked people through this process, and even texted them successfully through this process when they were too frightened to speak.
  • Think of ways to contribute to others

Again, research has shown that when we do acts of kindness, and help others, our own happiness and well being increases. Stay aware of others around you and be creative and imaginative in finding ways to create community and connection in the midst of this crisis.

  • Decide to use this as an opportunity for growth

Resilience and ‘growth mindset’ are common buzz words these days. But for sure, we have a choice as to how we approach this whole difficult situation. I am self employed. I have no backup. But I am fired up with ideas of how to help both myself and others, and that has changed my anxiety into energy and hope.

  • Keep a Daily Journal of your experiences

There is going to be much research that needs to be done about the wider impact of this whole crisis. I am particularly interested in the impact of social distancing, and how people deal. I would encourage you to keep a daily journal of things that work and things that don’t, of what triggers you, and what gives you hope and strength. This will potentially be of great value in learning how we can best prepare for the future.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Stay in touch with others
  • Share positive messages
  • I am here, I offer online coaching for those who can still afford it, and for those who can’t, I am going to do my best to provide free resources for connection and positivity.
  • You can help me by sharing this blog widely if you feel it would be useful to anyone you know!

Wishing you all the best!

My Credentials for Dealing with Uncertainty

I have been no stranger to prolonged uncertainty in my life. I grew up in what was Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, for those too young to have heard of Rhodesia). The country declared its Independence from Britain, which was not recognised, and from my childhood we had international sanctions imposed on us.

We became a nation of ‘make do and mend’. The life fostered a spirit of innovation, imagination and entrepreneurship. As children we had few toys, but we had great games.

My teenage years were spent largely on the Eastern Border of the country in the time of the bush war. We experienced years of relative lockdown. Our beloved nature, mountains and rivers, were out of bounds entirely. We could not leave town unless in an armed convoy. A bomb, (thankfully unexploded), landed in our school grounds.

People living nearest the border built bomb shelters and the rest of us created a ‘safe space’ in our house where we kept emergency rations. For years we went to bed at night with candles and tracksuits at the bottom of our beds, in case of attack. Fathers, brothers and boyfriends spent years being called up for active service for up to six weeks at a time, having to leave home and work to do so.

Those of us who remained behind suffered the anxiety of worry for their safety.

Friends died.

We have the opportunity to learn from our experiences, or to be overwhelmed by them. For me, that training has stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

I have been self employed now for 30 years, through two recessions. That in itself has been a severe test of living with uncertainty. I have also moved continents, countries, counties and cities, remaking my life and work as I went. Add to that a very stressful divorce and single parenting a daughter, and I feel I have the credentials for authentic information gathering!

Offers

  • During this crisis I am offering online coaching for those who can afford it. For those who cannot, I am developing some free resources which I will offer via my website, www.creativetransformation.org.uk
  • From Monday 23/3, I will be doing a free online weekly warm up and meditation. Email or text me to join in from wherever you are in the world. Let me know if you want me to do another at a time more convenient for you. If I can, I will.
  • I have spent two years running Action Learning (Peer group) coaching for PhD students nationally, and taught the principles internationally up to University Exec level. If you are interested in starting a virtual group for support during this time, please get in touch.
  • Please share with anyone who might find this useful.
  • Thanks!

Surreptitious Growth

Spring Flowers

It’s a ‘dead’ February Sunday morning – a sunless, muted chilled day. The kind where it is easy to descend into melancholy and retreat into oneself. I am sitting on my patio in socks, pyjamas and winter coat drinking my morning coffee, listening to Janis Ian and contemplating.

My gaze lights on the terracotta pot that one of Anna’s friends accidentally broke, which now looks sad and dilapidated.

Terracotta Pot

And my gaze softens and widens and instead of the broken pot I allow myself to see what’s in it and in the mass of winter dead leaves in the bed beyond.

And I realise that I have not really been paying attention in the last few weeks of morning coffee drinking, because there in the ground are the first signs of Spring.

Spring Bulbs

I’ve been talking to clients a lots recently about growth, and about spring bulbs – how we plant them in Autumn and then see nothing for months – but how in that dark, hard ground, something is happening. That without that time of winter – of darkness, of bare-ness, of hibernation, the bulbs don’t have the necessary strength and energy to find their way through the earth and up to the light in order to blossom..

Hyacinths in GrowthAnd I realise that wherever I look in my tiny garden, the signs of growth are everywhere – I just haven’t been really looking. And like the hyacinths that are budding in the safety of their leaf nests, my flowers of creativity are budding and ready to bloom.

I have been doing some work on website recently and came across quite a few blogs that I started and never published. I notice that for years I have been having ideas about things I want to write, to offer as workshops, and I have got some way to making them happen and then they have sat dormant. And just as I had the idea of this blog and walked inside and made it happen, so I realise that I am making all sorts of other plans, dreams and schemes happen organically – with energy but without forcing, and I notice by paying attention, that my creativity is budding and in the process of blossoming, because of all the surreptitious growing that has been going on in the dark.

And I realise that it no longer bothers me if I can’t see the sun because the light is inside me, and I am deeply happy…

The 3 Illusions on which many of us build our lives

Many years ago I came across the book ‘The Heart Aroused’ by David Whyte – a book about bringing Heart into the Business world and found it inspiring.

Last week I came across one of his talks, where he propounded the theory of my title. These are the 3 illusions of which he speaks:

  1. That we can somehow construct a life where we are not vulnerable
  2. That we can somehow construct a life where our hearts do not get broken
  3. That we wish to see to the end of our life from where we stand right now

1. He talked of how we hope to avoid the pain of loss and illness. Yet just as nature is cyclical – an unavoidable cycle of birth, growth, decay and death, so too are many aspects of our lives. In wishing to only relate to the first half of that cycle, we find ourselves at war with ourselves and nature for 50% of the time.

That struck a chord. I am no lover of vulnerability, and have spent a great deal of time and energy from time to time, attempting to avoid it. Yet as Brené Brown so succinctly puts it:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Oh heck……

2. It goes without saying then, that if we are going to live a life imbued with any of these qualities, that at some point, we will get our hearts broken. David Whyte argues that if we love the work we do, we will get our hearts broken professionally as well as personally.

Rock and a hard place then, folks. It’s that full cycle thing again. Most of us (all of us?) want to love, to belong, to experience joy and to connect. So apparently the choice is, allow yourself to be heartbroken at some point, to feel pain, sadness, rejection, or be alone, disconnected, numb and half dead while alive.

Oh heck…..

3. The recent spate of terrorist attacks on innocent people eating in restaurants or walking across the wrong bridge at the wrong moment, and the floods sweeping Africa, Asia and America are a stark reminder that we have no guarantee of safety in this lifetime. (Interestingly, reports of Hurricane Harvey flood my newsfeed – 9 dead, 30,000 homeless. I have to search harder to find the 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless in the recent monsoons, but that is a rant for another time).

Last December my father, though 88 and suffering from dementia, was hale and hearty. I stood in the shower one Saturday morning and suddenly remembered my passport was about to expire and I would not be allowed into South Africa until I had renewed it. That lunchtime I had a text from my mother to say my father had fallen and was in hospital, but seemed OK. He died at 4am the following morning…

I mentioned at the beginning of this month that the blogs I would write were a way of reflecting on issues that troubled me. If they help anyone else, great, but at bottom I am finding ways of pausing to consider the ramifications of the choices that I make in my life, to think consciously about them, and to try and change them if I find them unhelpful. The principles espoused in this last sentence are of course also the basic tenets of the Alexander Technique. They say you teach best what you most need to learn…..

http://www.davidwhyte.com/

THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY – SUMMER 2017

SUMMER THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY


It’s August, and ‘everyone’ is away on holiday and all classes have stopped. It’s the month for whiling away the hours in lazy sunshine…

Except that I can’t afford to do that, and besides, it seems that Yorkshire was not made aware that ‘lazy sunshine’ was supposed to be the order of the day.

So I am giving notice to anyone who happens to read my blog, that I have made a covenant with myself to put in some sort of thought for the day for the next month – whether that be one of mine, or just one that inspires me.

I would be delighted if this helps/interests/entertains anyone else, but I just want to make it clear that this is something I am doing for myself:

  • To face down my morning demons
  • To practise my 20 minute rule of keeping at things steadily, rather than hoping for the grand inspiration (am much in need of this practice)
  • To practise gratitude
  • To find the lessons in situations I might otherwise be tempted to call problematic
  • To allow myself to write without feeling that I have to be saying something original, important, erudite or anything else deeply meaningful, because I realise that I decided 20 years ago I wanted to write every morning, and I have allowed all these reasons (and more) to stop me, and that seems very sad

  • Because I know in my heart that if I keep paying attention to inspiration and creative thought, that eventually all those little somethings will help me to experience meaning and purpose and that’s something I have been struggling with and allowing me to give free reign to my inner critic.

REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS’ DAY

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REFLECTIONS ON MOTHERS DAY

My parents, though British, have lived all my life in Africa. I am the divorced mother of an only daughter. Her father’s family have always got together at Christmas and celebrated lavishly. If I loved my daughter, it seemed obvious to let her spend Christmas Day with them, and I learned to hold the day lightly, and to celebrate whenever I was able to get together with what family I had here in the UK. But I also learned to dread the familiar question (as early as September) –‘What are you doing for Christmas?’

Today, having the gift of a daughter here, but a mother on the other side of the world, I have been aware both of the joy of having a child, and the sadness of those who do not have, or are not able to be, a mother; of those who have had a child but no longer are with them for whatever reason, for those who are not able to be with their mothers.

These days of supposed celebration, much touted by the media, are often for many, a reason to feel disenfranchised, on the periphery, lonely and not part of something which feels important.

Because I know that pain, I wanted to write something to let those people know that they are being thought of, and reached out to, even if only in writing.

My training in Alexander Technique taught me the importance of peripheral vision. On days like this, this translates for me into being aware of those of our friends and acquaintances who may be feeling isolated, and finding ways to connect with them.

As someone who faced the very real threat of losing a child in the process of divorce, I also wish to encourage everyone who knows of someone in that situation to do as much as they can for any parent (mother or father) to help them bear that excruciating loss, and further to help prevent it if at all possible.

I have been pondering what it means to be a mother:
• Motherhood is a lifelong commitment, whether one outlives one’s offspring or not
• It is a gift that demands one’s utmost – in creativity, resolve, patience, selflessness, energy, time, fierceness, and longevity of commitment.
• It is way of loving which transcends dislike, exhaustion, frustration and pain
• One can leave country, city, town, village, job, lover or husband, but for me the bond with my daughter is the one constant that it would be unthinkable or impossible to sever. Even as I write this, I am aware that for some, because of fear, illness, pain, or addiction, this may not be true, and the children of those mothers carry the excruciating pain of rejection – whether or not that rejection was deliberate or unconscious.

And those who have not been granted the gift of motherhood have to find other ways to express their creativity, resolve, patience, energy, time and commitment without the daily reminder that children offer. It is therefore a harder task, and I honour those who manage it.
So while I rejoice in this ‘Mothers’ Day, for what it is worth, I send love and good wishes to all those women for whom this day would otherwise be one of sadness, loss or isolation. And to those who have chosen otherwise, I wish them a very happy ‘in-Mothers’ Day!